Funds for Community Health Centers will help fill gaps for access to care

This year is the first time state appropriations have been provided for North Dakota’s Community Health Centers

Spectra Health occupies the downtown Grand Forks building at 212 South 4th St. Photo taken Friday, October 16, 2020. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

GRAND FORKS – State appropriations of $2 million for North Dakota’s five Community Health Centers, including Spectra Health in Grand Forks, is “really exciting” for area health care leaders.

This year is the first time state appropriations have been provided for North Dakota’s Community Health Centers. The additional resources will sustain existing services the health centers provide, and fill gaps in access to care for underserved populations across the state.

“Community Health Centers are located in all 50 states and the work that we do is really targeted at some of our most at-risk and vulnerable populations, although we do serve everyone,” said Spectra Health CEO Mara Jiran, who serves as Community Healthcare Association of the Dakotas (CHAD) board chair. “This is something that we’re just really excited to be part of to have not only the support, but also to be really part of our health care landscape here in North Dakota.”

The $2 million was outlined in Senate Bill 2155, introduced by Sen. Judy Lee, R-West Fargo, which was signed by Gov. Doug Burgum in April.

Along with appropriations being provided to the Department of Health and Human Services for federally qualified health center grants, the bill also calls for legislative management study during the 2023-24 interim. The study will consider “increasing the number of federally qualified health care centers in the state and improving federally qualified health care center collaboration with local public health units.”


Of the total $2 million, Shelly Ten Napel, CEO of CHAD, said a formula will be created to determine the grant amount each health center will receive based on uncompensated care. The formula will factor in the sliding fee discount the centers offer to patients.

Overall, Ten Napel said health centers are community-based organizations that provide health care access for populations with limited access to services including rural and frontier areas, veterans, limited English proficiency, uninsured, Medicare and Medicaid and low-income individuals.

“I think what we often find is health centers moving in those gaps for care. Those places where maybe it’s a homeless population in a particular city that is in need,” Ten Napel said. “So health centers will move into that space. Or maybe it’s (our) rural, frontier communities where it’s kind of harder to sustain care over time.”

The centers provide dental, medical, behavioral, insurance enrollment specialists, vision care, translation/interpretation and pharmacy services. Additional areas of focus are in housing, food insecurity and substance use disorders.

Ten Napel said the centers also determine barriers to care such as transportation, language barriers and limited access to healthy food.

In addition to Spectra Health, which has locations in Grand Forks and Larimore, the other health centers in the state include the Coal Country Community Health Center, Community Health Service Inc., Family HealthCare and Northland Health Centers. The health centers are located in a total of 19 communities with 21 delivery sites.

According to statistics from CHAD, the health centers serve about 36,000 primary and behavioral health care patients and nearly 13,000 dental patients in the state.

While the operations for the health centers in the state can vary depending on the community they are located in and the needs in those communities, Jiran said the goal is to provide an integrated model to improve patients lives and saves the health system money. Part of that integrated model is partnering with local nonprofits and area health systems.


“We share a lot of similarities, but there’s also some distinct differences and that’s what’s so beautiful. They’re very local. I think when we look at health care, it’s local,” she said. “… It’s a really beautiful picture in terms of both effectiveness and improving patients' lives, but also being very good stewards of our health care dollars.”

Meghan Arbegast grew up in Security-Widefield, Colorado. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from North Dakota State University in Fargo, in 2021.

Arbegast wrote for The Spectrum, NDSU's student newspaper, for three years and was Head News Editor for two years. She was an intern with University Relations her last two semesters of college.

Arbegast covers news pertaining to the city of Grand Forks/East Grand Forks including city hall coverage.

Readers can reach Arbegast at 701-780-1267 or

Pronouns: She/Her
Languages: English
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